Urmet Lee: Together we can make future censuses worthy of a digital society

Posted on 29. September 2021 15:56

Urmet Lee, who became the Director General of Statistics Estonia at the beginning of August, assures that we are ready for the big e-census of Estonia. We asked him to explain what is going to be different this time and why everyone should participate in the population census.

Can you tell us about the first month in your new position as Director General of Statistics Estonia?

So much has happened during the first month. I feel as if I have worked here for much longer already. A big part of my time has been taken up by the population census as we are fully focused on its preparations. Everyone is working hard to ensure a successful census and I want to help however I can.

How are the census preparations going? Are you ready for the census?

Statistics Estonia has been preparing for this census for years, with experts and researchers from various domains consulted in the process. Many tasks have already been successfully completed and our preparations are on schedule. We have studied the experience in Estonia and in other countries, to gain valuable insight that we can apply in the organisation of the population census. In the three months left until the census, it is essential to further improve the registers, so that they would provide us with data of the best possible quality. We are also working on the user interface that respondents will access to answer questions – it needs to be convenient for all users.

Why do we need a population census?

The Population and Housing Census gives us a picture of the composition, geographic distribution and economic and social structure of the population at a specific moment. All countries are required to conduct a census regularly, which means that it is possible to study national trends and developments over time. Based on knowledge of the current situation, the government can make important decisions and plans for the future.

I encourage everyone to participate in the census. Start by checking the accuracy of your data in the Population Register and also in the National Register of Buildings. If you receive an invitation to complete the online census questionnaire, you should definitely do it! This ensures a fast and efficient census. Going forward, we want to use registers as much as possible to minimize the burden on respondents, but this requires everyone’s contribution. The more there are people participating this time, the better we can make future censuses.  

What is going to be different in the upcoming census?

As befits a digital society, the 2021 census is already mostly based on registers. It means that nearly all of the information required by Eurostat and for our national needs is obtained from various databases, such as the Population Register, the National Register of Buildings, the Estonian Education Information System and many others. As a result, we do not have to collect data going door to door. Nearly 30 registers will be used in total. The transition to register-based censuses is still ongoing and there are some data that are currently not yet available in registers. Therefore, we ask people to complete the e-census questionnaire. Up to 61,000 persons will be included in the sample survey, meaning that they will definitely be surveyed and might be contacted by interviewers if necessary.

How will the census be conducted in the event of another lockdown?

In that case, we are prepared to conduct a telephone survey. First, we ask people to complete the questionnaire online. And then we will contact the respondents included in the sample by phone to ask additional questions, if necessary. But only if they have not filled in the online questionnaire.

When does the census begin and what must people do in order to participate?

The first step for everyone is something you can already do today – review and update your data in the Population Register and in the National Register of Buildings. If you need to change some details in the latter, you can contact your local government for help. The data in the Population Register can be updated easily after you have signed in. We will receive register data as at 31 December 2021. There are a few questions for which researchers, public authorities or organisations need answers, since this information is not available in registers. This concerns, for example, knowledge of languages and dialects, religious affiliation, and health-related limitations. To get answers to these questions, there is a separate e-questionnaire. It can be completed conveniently on a computer or a mobile phone, which takes just up to seven or eight minutes. The sample survey will be available online for all residents of Estonia from 28 December 2021 until 15 January 2022. 

Is it guaranteed that my data will not be leaked?

Yes, the data collected during the census will be handled in compliance with the requirements of the ISKE baseline security system. In the case of data confidentiality, we implement S3 security measures, which is the highest level of security in this domain. We handle all data entrusted to us with full confidentiality.

Is there anything you would like to say to those who still have doubts about participating in the census?

Some people might show their reluctance by not answering the extra questions, but everyone will be counted based on registers, no matter what it is just not possible to opt out. Everyone will be counted!

Photo: Kristiin Kõosalu